Today, for our Ask A Mom Mentor segment, Katie is sharing her experience as an “instant mom” or “bonus mom” with us. Blended families go though challenges that other families don’t experience and have questions that not everyone can answer if they haven’t been in those shoes.
Katie is answering some of your questions today!
How do I bond with my husband’s kids?
Early in trying to build a relationship with my son, I felt more like a middle school girl trying to convince the most popular girl in school to be her best friend.
At two, he saw me as a threat to his relationship with his father and saw loving me as a betrayal to his biological mom. To make things even more difficult, he had serious, hard-earned trust issues with women.
I fell all over myself, desperately trying to get him to like me because I was so afraid that if my child didn’t love me my spouse would find fault in me, or worse, wouldn’t love me either. That was a lie.
I tried so hard to bond with my son that he rejected me because my actions didn’t seem genuine, but desperate. A mentor explained to me that my husband fell in love with me for a reason. My son would learn to love me for the same reason because he loves his Dad.
I needed to stop trying so hard, and just be myself when I was with my child. Eventually, my son learned to love me for who I am too.
Unfortunately, there is no magic number for the amount of weeks, months, or years it might take to establish a bond with your new children.
Each child has a different temperament and background. Also, the older the child is the longer it might take them to bond with you. All I can tell you is that love takes time.
Here are so tips on how to create a positive home environment
Let them have a little control over the relationship
Love is a choice. It’s their choice in whether or not they love you, they don’t have to. You have to be ok with that. It is not their choice, however, if you love them and for them to respect you.
Tell them you love them often, and remind them early on that it’s their choice and that if they choose not to love you and that’s ok. This helps them feel more secure and in control when things for them seem completely out of control in their world.
Let them set the pace
Touch is a huge way I express love, but that was not something my son was comfortable with. At first, I did not hug him or hold his hand unless he initiated it. It felt like an eternity, but I will never forget the first time he held my hand.
We were standing in line at the grocery line at Kroger and, without a second thought, he put his little hand in mine. To me, the earth stood still at that moment.
It took everything I had not to burst into tears. Instead, I kept my composure and let him hold it as long as he wanted. It was one of the greatest moments of my life.
Spend quality time together
To bond with our son, my husband invited me to do things with them. I also did little things like join Drake when he was playing on the floor and make small conversation.
I asked simple get to know you questions and made sure I listened intently to bring it up in conversations later. If he moved away or said he didn’t want to ask any more questions, I respected his space and let him go.
After we were married and Drake became more comfortable spending time with me, I scheduled alone time with him.
I made sure it was something that required interaction with each other and doing something he loved. We went to the library and read him books, got ice cream, or played in the park.
Also, pay attention and learn to speak their love language. That is the quickest way to anyone’s heart.
You can find those here: 5 Love Languages For Kids
Become a part of their daily/weekly routine
Pick them up from school one day a week and talk with them in the car.
Attend as many baseball games and school activities you can. At night, read a book with your husband and children and say your prayers together.
Seek biblical counseling
Before becoming a bonus mom, I sought out a free biblical counselor through the National Association of Biblical Counseling.
I would not have been able to survive this without the tools they helped me develop. I encourage all bonus moms or even divorced moms to seek counseling through them.
While it’s great to spend time with your girlfriends, a counselor is better equipped to help you work through a lot of intense feelings while providing you a safe place to unload a lot of those emotional burdens.
Trust me, it will save your marriage and help you keep your sanity.
Your relationship with your child will get worse before it gets better
They push you away because they want to test you and see if you are really going to be there for them.
Remember, they witnessed their parents either separate or grow apart.
They are scared it’s going to happen again. The best thing you can do to calm those fears is to consistently be there and love them through everything (and I mean everything because it will get rough).
How do you handle the relationship with his biological mom? What are your top three tips?
Developing a relationship with your child’s biological mom can be difficult, messy, and sometimes uncomfortable.
It’s not something I’ve entirely figured out yet. Our circumstances are also different because of her illnesses. Right now, we are in a good place and on the way to a better one. I am still learning how and what to do, but my top three tips are:
Respect your child’s biological mother’s role in your child’s life
As a bonus mom, your place is second. That means that when there is only one craft it goes to the biological mom because she is the first woman in his life and one of the most important.
That’s the way God created it to be.
It is your job to support and encourage that relationship with her as long as it is healthy for them.
Praise them whenever you hear your child say something positive about them. Your child will notice your positivity and support, which will actually strengthen your relationship.
Out of respect, I never insert myself into her and David’s conversations.
When picking up Drake with David, I always stay inside the car while he and Amanda speak. All that will do is produce hostile feelings and make her feel even more threatened by me.
I also don’t read David’s text messages or emails to her. I trust that he will tell me everything I need to know. Doing this also protects my sanity. I promise you, involving yourself to that degree will make you crazy.
Never say anything poorly about her when your children are present
Nothing good will ever come from arguing with the biological mother, just as nothing good will come from speaking ill about her to her children.
The biological bond is something that cannot be replicated or broken.
Your child will always be connected to her and feel protective of her. When you say something negative, even if it is true, they will become defensive and it will reflect negatively on you.
This applies not only to you but also your spouse. Please do your best to save your angry outbursts either after your children go to bed or you and your husband can discuss it in another room behind a closed door.
If you both continue to be positive about the other parent in front of your children while the mother is negative, it will reflect that much more poorly on her.
Kids are smart and perceptive. Your child will notice things don’t quite add up. They will start to question whatever their mother is saying.
Demonstrate God’s love, be kind whenever speaking with her
As Christians, we are called to love one another, especially people who are difficult to love. However, loving someone does not necessarily mean having a close relationship with them.
Drake’s mother is extremely self-conscious and has very abrupt highly-unpredictable emotional episodes.
One moment, she supports me and my relationship with Drake. The next, she feels threatened and does whatever she can to sabotage it. For that reason, I do my best to give her as little fodder as possible by limiting our interactions.
I only speak to her in case of an emergency or if I am picking up Drake from her. I don’t casually text her and we do not “go out” together. When we are in public, I make sure I say hello and make polite conversation. Sometimes we sit together, other times we don’t.
You don’t have to be friends, but you do need to be civil.
What has been the hardest and most rewarding thing about becoming a bonus mom?
In short, the hardest is constantly having to start over each week and feeling like I will never be enough. The most rewarding? Realizing I am enough when I get the extremely rare “I love you,” or he gives me a hug.
What are some things we can do to prepare our kids to become part of a blended family?
Just like forming a bond with your child can take time, it also takes time to learn to become a family.
Lay down a strong foundation for your household
Schedule for you and your future husband to sit down with a trained biblical marriage counselor, ideally two (one for marriage and one for family).
Discuss how each of you wants to raise and are raising your children, and get on the same page. The moment you marry it’s not your kid/ my kids, it’s our children and our family. It is vital that you are committed to doing this together. If you don’t, you will not succeed.
Have a regular family night
If you are not married, don’t call it a family night yet, but make it a big deal. Set up play tents and watch a movie. Play board games together and blend the teams.
Do a craft or science experiment together. Host a video game tournament and the winner gets to choose dinner. Stargaze in your backyard and tell stories.
Do these things all in the space you are going to call home so you can start to make memories and relationships together as a family before you become one.
Start changing your language
You are all becoming part of the same family, so call your step-son your son have your children say they are all brothers and sisters.
Step infers something less.
By marrying one another, you are making a commitment not only to love each other but also your children. You are all part of one family and are making the commitment to raise them as your own. Guard your hearts, though, do this only when you are engaged or after you are married.
What did you do about discipline? Should I disciple my stepchildren?
Discipline can be difficult for a bonus parent, especially if you are still developing trust with your new children. It is something to be done in slow phases.
Initially, when we were not married, I had no role in disciplining Drake. When we were first married, my husband was still the primary disciplinarian but we stood together when delivering punishment to ease me into a more authoritative role.
Now, my husband is still the primary disciplinarian but I also play a joint role in that too since my son and I’s relationship is more secure.
Children will be very disrespectful towards you in the beginning.
It is important that your husband steps in and advocates for you. By doing this, he is setting an example for his children of how a husband should treat his wife and what marriage should look like.
It’s important for your new children to know that it is their Dad’s responsibility to protect you and everyone in the family.
Any sort of disrespect shown towards you in an automatic timeout.
Disrespectful actions are: hurtful words, name-calling, attempts to exclude you, eye rolls or death stares, and talking back to you.
Starting at age 2, after any punishment your husband must talk to them and explain why they were punished and what they can do better next time.
He should say to them,
“You will not disrespect my wife. I love her, and I love you too. It is your choice to love her, but you will respect her as you will any other adult. Disrespect will not be tolerated in this house.”
You will have to do this over and over and over again. Someday it will sink in, but as with anything in parenting, consistency is key.